Darkening existing finishes onsite

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Setting up shop in the customer's home in order to modify a finish. October 9, 2002

My boss and I just finished an oak desk. It was stained with golden oak, vinyl sealed and glazed, all with ML Campbell products. The customer says she wants it darkened. My boss wants to darken it on-site in a simple way. We ended up with tung oil and a darker stain mixed in. Any advice?

Forum Responses
He's on ludes. The only way is with a sprayed lacquer toner you would make up with either dyes or HULS 844 colorants. What's tung oil with darker stain over a sealed surface going to do? It's just going to sit on the surface as a sticky mess.

1) Did the customer sign off on the color? If so, she's got to pay for the change - no excuses. If you didn't make her do this, your boss is a bad businessman.

2) You've got to reshoot this, whether in the customer's backyard or your shop. There is no way you're going to do it in the customer's house without butchering it using a brush and tinted Minwax poly or killing her with fumes.

If you're *really* good, you might be able to pad a dark dewaxed shellac over it, but that's not going to be easy to do uniformly, either.

Take it back to the shop, tone it and charge her an arm and a leg for it! Next time she'll like the golden oak a lot more.

I wonder if the Boss showed the customer the stain sample uncoated.

Russ Ramirez, finishing forum technical advisor

From the original questioner:

She gave us some pictures of the color she wanted on some other furniture. We didn't send her a sample to sign off on. Next time I most certainly will.

From contributor E:
I'd also suggest that you not take a picture as a sample of a piece of furniture that the customer wants to match. They never, ever correctly represent the true color tones of the actual piece. It's usually easy enough for the customer to bring in a drawer or small door to leave with you to provide a sample and keep until the job is complete. Avoid letting the customer use words phrases like "I want it this color but a little darker" unless you have built in some extra time to tweak the samples for him/her. With transparent stains (as most are), wood tone variances (even within the same board) and the natural aging (patina) often make it difficult or impossible to provide an exact match. I always present to the customer that a perfect color match is not likely but I will do my best to get as close as possible. I most often can reproduce a very close copy, but this statement gives me the opportunity to get a feel for the customer's expectations and also sets them up to not expect perfection. If I get the feeling the customer is looking for perfection in color match, I most often will refuse the work. At any rate, like the others suggested, getting your sample signed before starting work is the only way to do it.

And watch out for 'golden oak.' That title has been used on stains which vary all over the spectrum.

From contributor D:
You can darken the item right in the house and spray clear coats. You do this by scuff sanding the desk, all scuffs going with the grain. Wipe on black glaze and wipe off. Some of the glaze will sit in your sand scratches. Then you can clear coat within the appropriate window for spraying. You will get a darker finish that still has the lighter highlights (giving depth to the look).

Put plastic sheeting down on the floor. Put a large sheet of new cardboard over the plastic. Place the desk on the cardboard. Put cardboard everywhere so you can walk without ripping up the plastic and so the gun hose does not rip it up, taping the cardboard to the plastic so the hose does not dog-ear the corners of the cardboard. Put plastic sheeting on the walls. Use a polyethylene washing machine pan (made for using washing machines in second floor laundry rooms, available from Lowes or Home Depot for about $18) to mix your lacquers, open your can of glaze, etc. Set up a small sawhorse with some kind of nail sticking out to hang your spray gun.

Open the window and the screen. Place your powerful and explosion-proof fan in front and keep it running the entire time so the solvent smells travel outside the house. Start finishing.

Charge about double what you would charge because onsite finishing in an existing room is a lot of work. Turning someone's room into your spray booth is a lot of prep work.

The black glaze works. Try it on a sample board and you will see. You have to scuff sand first. As I said, the glaze will sit in the scuff marks. What you are doing is actually micro-striping colorant and original color. This is almost like toning except you get better depth from this approach than you do with a toner. A toner colors 100% of the surface. This approach forces your eyes (and brain) to do color averaging - one color next to another color and your eyes average them together to give you a perceived color.

Last, you do not want or need the black glaze to hang in the recesses, corners, grooves, shapes and carvings. Hanging glaze is done for antiquing. You want your glaze to give you overall color shift, nothing more.

From contributor E:
Outstanding post! Really like the detail you provide. I'm going to have to try this just to see how it works. Even though I don't have an immediate need, it's come up in the past and will surely come up again.

Do you have any particulars on what sort of explosion proof fan to get?

From contributor D:
I have to advise the use of proper fans. This is a public forum. To tell people to use the substandard box fan is not proper. That would be leading folks down a dangerous path and that is not ethical.

If I had my druthers then I would use a squirrel cage fan, plugging it in from a different room. I would hook up polyethylene tubing to the output (where the air blows out, if that's what you call it) and run the length of tube away from the house.

Where do you get polyethylene tubing that has a workable diameter? At plumbing supply houses they sell insulated air conditioner collapsible tubes (I do not know what these are called). They look like giant slinky toys. I think that they come in 20' lengths. I know you can get 20" diameter hose (tube).

Pull off the insulation. It's fiberglass insulation. It's held on/wrapped on the tube by use of a white mesh polyethylene. The skin of this giant slinky is polyethylene plastic, so it is solvent resistant. In front of the squirrel cage fan you can rig something to hold some filtering media to limit what goes through the turbine.

I neglected to mention that when you spray onsite, tape off all the plug outlets and switches to guard against sources of potential sparks. That is why I suggested here to plug the fan in from another room.

Hope this helps. I know this isn't quite kosher, either. But the cardboard over the plastic is.

Get big pieces of cardboard at (1) a retail appliance store or (2) a retail furniture store.

Just for the record, I have only done a few onsite projects, but I know they can be done and it is possible to turn someone's room into your spray room if you can get away with it. Common sense ought to prevail before undertaking any such project. The stakes are high and the prices ought to be as well.

As a finisher that works in shop and in field, why would anyone want to shade or tone in home if you can haul the desk back to your shop? Non-moveable conference tables, architectural items such as wall units or cabinetry are one thing. But unless the job is more than five hours away, it is not worth the hassle of masking and cleaning the customer's home. As for shading or toning, the only problem that you may have is to cover the yellow under base tone of the golden oak. I would also use a straight dye or a dye/pigment shader mix. Naptha, scuff sand, reseal with an applicable sanding - non-sterite or thinned vinyl, 320, shade, shade, shade, sanding sealer and final. Then deliver back to customer and check the final color before you apply your final finish the next time.

Contributor D's method works - I do it that way too, sometimes.

Here's another one I use. We use MLC stuff, too. Tint Duravar with microton for a darker even tone without muddying up the grain. About two tablespoons in a quart cup. Just clean, scuff sand with grain, and shoot tinted mixture in thin even coats until you get the shade desired. Practice first on a drawer! You can make a practice mixture out of naphtha and the tint. When sprayed and wet, that is the color it will be. Then wipe off with naphtha and practice the Duravar tinted the same. If that looks okay, go to town on the rest.

I also darken front entry doors all the time in place. I scuff sand as per above and wipe with darker stain. I usually use water base stains given by door manufacturers, but any stains will do. Once you have color you want to simply spray with Behlen spray cans of lacquer. They have three gloss levels - flat, satin, and gloss. I use flat almost all the time.

Keep it simple for fastest results and best dollars. I always get at least $100/hour for any refurbishing, repairs, etc. That includes travel time. If you don't charge for travel time, you will not make money. This job today - one hour travel time, one hour work = $200.

I just finished a door today - it took about an hour and looked great. I charged $200. I wouldn't necessarily recommend using Behlen spray on exterior doors but I do it all the time with no problems after 1-1/2 years doing this.

I do think you should take desk outdoors and spray.

I do use tinted Behlen sprays occasionally, but carefully, as they can be rather dark. I prefer to scuff sand and stain as it gives better control.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I have done a lot of in-house stripping and refinishing. I use 4 mil plastic and heavy duty cloth drops. Mix all stains, etc. inside the van. I usally don't cover anything in the room because all that remains is a residue of dust.

Use only high quality Binks HVLP compressor assisted guns with pressure pot. Use of fans is optional, use of thinner 5% to atomize spray at less than 10LB with trigger depressed. If you have overspray fog in the room floating around, air pressure is too high in tip - you should only have a small mist while spraying.

Buy only Binks hoses - don't get cheap ones. Diameter and flexibilty is very important. Double tank Emglo 4.5cfm at 90lbs is okay, though I like higher volume for table tops.

Use of air deionizer on full setting for 30 minutes before and after is good to clear air of houshold dust first, then fumes in the air. If you use a fan, use positive pressure to blow out dirty air by drawing in clean air with fan in another part of the house.

In office building with no windows to open, use water base lacquers only.

PS Use of a cheap HVLP gun for in-house work is not good practice. I have tried it - don't go there!

Comment from contributor B:
Here's how I set up an on-site spray booth...

I was using homemade poles, but now have 6 poles from Fast Cap with which I can build a nice visqueen room to spray. I have a 12" tube axil fan with external sealed motor (this is a spraybooth fan from Grainger) with 12" colapsable venting attached to both ends. Intake end has a 2' x 2' box with a filter on it. Exhaust end will go out the door or window. Select an appropriate area to open up an intake vent in your visqueen wall and your set.

Floor protection, which must do down first, is heavy visqueen with a painter's canvas dropcloth on top of that. This usually gives me sufficent protection. If I have cardboard or feel it is necassary, it will go uder the dropcloth.

All other areas which need to get masked off if you are working on the walls and not a freestanding unit will be masked off with blue tape and masking paper. 12" or 24" out - whichever I feel necessry.

I do plenty of onsite work where this wall is put up. It will take me 20 or so minutes to form a straight wall and a few more to create 4 walls enclosing the area completely.